Glossary Terms

A B C D F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z
sabab (pl. asbab)

Lit. ‘rope.‘ It can also denote anything that binds or connects, ‘anything by means of which one gains an end or an object sought.’

Sab‘iyya

A term used in modern scholarship to designate proto-Ismaili groups, especially the so-called Qarmatis, who restricted the number of imams to seven (ending with Muhammad b. Isma‘il). The term ‘seveners’ was used in another sense in authors such as al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974), who counted the imams in cycles of seven or heptads. The term seveners is still wrongly used to designate all other Ismaili communities who continued the line of imams beyond the number seven.

Safarids

A Muslim dynasty which ruled Sistan in eastern Persia (861–1003 CE).

Safavids

A major Shi‘i dynasty which ruled Persia (1501–1732 CE), and was succeeded by the Afsharids. (See also Qizilbash, Safawiyya .)

Safaviyya

A Sufi order founded by Shaykh Saif al–Din in 1252–53 CE, which later became the Safawid dynasty. (See Safawid , Qizilbash.)

Safawids

A major Shi‘i dynasty which ruled Persia (1501–1732 CE), and was succeeded by the Afsharids. (See also Qizilbash, Safawiyya .)

Safawiyya

A Sufi order founded by Shaykh Saif al–Din in 1252–53 CE, which later became the Safawid dynasty. (See Safawid , Qizilbash.)

Sajids

A local Muslim dynasty which ruled in Azerbaijan during the 10th century CE.

salam

A term derived from the same root as that in ‘Islam,’ which conveys several meanings such as peace, safety and salvation. It is a standard form of salutation between Muslims.

Salamiyya

A city in central Syria, which was the residence of several early Ismaili imams in the pre– Fatimid period.

salat (pl. salawat)

A Qur’anic term referring to prayer in general, which later came to be used more specifically for the daily ritual prayer.

Saljuq

Major Muslim dynasty of Turkish origin in Persia and Iraq (1040–1194) and Syria (1078–1178).

Samanids

Muslim dynasty in the Khurasan and Transoxania region of mediaeval Persia (900–1005).

Sanhaja

A confederation of Berber tribes in North Africa who supported the Fatimids in the tenth century.

Sarbadarids

A local Muslim dynasty that ruled in western Khurasan (1337–1386).

Sasanians

A Persian dynasty (224 – 651 CE) which ruled over territories that included, at various times, present day Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. The empire was founded by Ardashir I and ended with Yazdegerd III, when his army was defeated by the Arab Muslims in the major battles of Qadisiyya (636 CE) and Nahavand (642 CE).The Sassanid era is considered to be one of the most important and influential periods in Persian history and its cultural and courtly traditions continued to influence later Muslim Empires, especially the Abbasids.

Sasanids

A Persian dynasty (224 – 651 CE) which ruled over territories that included, at various times, present day Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. The empire was founded by Ardashir I and ended with Yazdegerd III, when his army was defeated by the Arab Muslims in the major battles of Qadisiyya (636 CE) and Nahavand (642 CE).The Sassanid era is considered to be one of the most important and influential periods in Persian history and its cultural and courtly traditions continued to influence later Muslim Empires, especially the Abbasids.

Sayyid

(pl. Sada- Asyad) Arabic term for ‘lord’ or ‘master’. It is a pre-Islamic term and refers to a person who possesses dignity or enjoys an exalted position among his people. Amongst Muslims, the term came to indicate descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those who descend from his grandson, Imam Husayn ibn ‘Ali. It is also used as a title for Sufi masters, notable theologians and ‘ulama’.

Seljuk

Major Muslim dynasty of Turkish origin in Persia and Iraq (1040–1194) and Syria (1078–1178).

Seveners

See Sab‘iyya .

Shafi‘i

Followers of one of the legal schools of Islam founded by Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al–Shafi‘i (d. 974 CE).

Shafi‘ites

Followers of one of the legal schools of Islam founded by Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al–Shafi‘i (d. 974 CE).

Shah Karim al-Husayni

See His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.

Shah Karim al-Husseini

See His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.

shahanshah

Lit. ‘king of kings,’ one of the royal titles in Persia and Mughal India. Also the name of a fortress near Nih, a town in Sistan, used by the Nizari Ismailis in the 13th century CE.

Shahdiz

The name of a Nizari Ismaili fortress near Isfahan in the 13th century CE.

Shamiran

A castle in Tarum in Persia ruled by the Musafirids during the 10th and 11th centuries CE.

sharia

Lit. ‘the path to be followed’; the standard term used for Muslim law; the totality of the Islamic way of life.

Sharif

(pl. ashraaf, shurafa’) Arabic term meaning ‘noble’ or ‘honourable’. Sharif is a pre-Islamic title that was used to denote a free man who would maintain a notable rank because of his descent from recognised tribes or ancestors. Amongst Muslims, to be a sharif came to mean in most cases being a descendent of the Prophet’s clan, the Hashimids (Banu Hashim); it also meant being an ‘Alid, a descendant of Imam Ali.

shari‘a

Lit. ‘the path to be followed’; the standard term used for Muslim law; the totality of the Islamic way of life.

Shawwal

The Name of the tenth month of the Islamic lunar year.

shaykh

Arabic term for old man, elder or tribal chief; also used as an honorific title for any religious dignitary; in particular a Sufi master or spiritual guide.

Sha‘ban

The eighth month of the Islamic lunar year.

sheikh

Arabic term for old man, elder or tribal chief; also used as an honorific title for any religious dignitary; in particular a Sufi master or spiritual guide.

Shia

Adherents of Shi‘ism, the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunnism; those who, in addition to following the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, believe in the Imamat of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants through Fatima. The three primary Shi‘i groups are the Ithna‘asharis , the Ismailis and the Zaydis.

Shiite

Adherents of Shi‘ism, the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunnism; those who, in addition to following the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, believe in the Imamat of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants through Fatima. The three primary Shi‘i groups are the Ithna‘asharis , the Ismailis and the Zaydis.

Shi‘a

Adherents of Shi‘ism, the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunnism; those who, in addition to following the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, believe in the Imamat of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants through Fatima. The three primary Shi‘i groups are the Ithna‘asharis , the Ismailis and the Zaydis.

Shi‘ism

See Shi‘a .

Shi‘ite

Adherents of Shi‘ism, the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunnism; those who, in addition to following the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, believe in the Imamat of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants through Fatima. The three primary Shi‘i groups are the Ithna‘asharis , the Ismailis and the Zaydis.

silsila

Lit. ‘chain.’ A line of spiritual descent linking masters of a Sufi group, going back to the founder of the order and eventually to Prophet Muhammad. For the Shi‘a, the line of imams starting with ‘Ali b. Abi Talib in spiritual as well as physical descent.

Sind

A province in present–day Pakistan. In mediaeval times, part of the Indus Valley where in 958 a Fatimid Ismaili principality was established with its seat at Multaninfo-icon.

Sindh

A province in present–day Pakistan. In mediaeval times, part of the Indus Valley where in 958 a Fatimid Ismaili principality was established with its seat at Multaninfo-icon.

Sira

From Arabic, lit. way of life, way of acting, conduct; as a literary genre, sira means a biography and times of an individual. In the Muslim context, the sira typically refers to an account of the life of Prophet Muhammad, often referred to as “sirat rasul Allah”, or “al-Sira al-Nabawiyya”.

Sistan

A province in eastern Iran.

sitr

Lit. ‘veil’ or ‘curtain.’ The ceremonial curtain behind which the Fatimid caliph-imams were seated at the opening of an audience and which was then unveiled.

Sitr/Satr

(Arabic; derived from the root sa-ta-ra, meaning ‘to veil’, ‘conceal’ or ‘hide’). In Shi‘i, particularly Ismaili history, the word is used in the phrase dawr al-sitr (also dawr al-satr), meaning a period when the Imams remained hidden from the public eye due to the prevailing political climate. The Imam remained physically present but not readily identifiable by or accessible to his followers or his detractors. During such periods, communication with the followers was maintained through a small number of religious officials (du‘at).

sufism

From ‘sufi,’; an exponent of sufism (in Arabic tasawwuf); the most common term used for the mystical approach to Islam.

sujud

A ritual posture of prostration in Muslim prayers with the forehead touching the ground.

sukhan

Persian for ‘Word of God’ or ‘divine command,’ equivalent to the Arabic amr.

Sulayhids

An Ismaili dynasty in Yemen (1038–1138).

Sulaymani Bohras

A branch of Da’udi Tayyibi Musta‘li Ismailis.


From the 27th dai onwards, the Sulaymani Bohras follow a different line of succession to that of the Da’udi Bohras. They believe that the rightful 27th dai was a nephew of the 21st dai named Suleyman b. Hasan (d. 1005 AH / 1597 CE), after whom they are named Sulaymani.

Suleyman was Indian but had been the local representative, ‘amil, in Yemen for the 26th da‘i (who lived in India). He travelled to India to challenge Da’ud b. Qutbshah, but died there without garnering much support from the Indian Tayyibis. He was succeeded by his son, Ja‘far (d. 1050 AH / 1640 CE), who returned to Yemen. From then on, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa remained in Narjan, the mountainous north east district of Yemen. Currently, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa is in Narjan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia. The Arab Sulaymanis call themselves ‘Makarima’, from the family name of their da‘is, while the Indian Sulaymanis continue to use the name ‘Sulaymani Bohra’.

Sulaymanis

A branch of Da’udi Tayyibi Musta‘li Ismailis.


From the 27th dai onwards, the Sulaymani Bohras follow a different line of succession to that of the Da’udi Bohras. They believe that the rightful 27th dai was a nephew of the 21st dai named Suleyman b. Hasan (d. 1005 AH / 1597 CE), after whom they are named Sulaymani.

Suleyman was Indian but had been the local representative, ‘amil, in Yemen for the 26th da‘i (who lived in India). He travelled to India to challenge Da’ud b. Qutbshah, but died there without garnering much support from the Indian Tayyibis. He was succeeded by his son, Ja‘far (d. 1050 AH / 1640 CE), who returned to Yemen. From then on, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa remained in Narjan, the mountainous north east district of Yemen. Currently, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa is in Narjan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia. The Arab Sulaymanis call themselves ‘Makarima’, from the family name of their da‘is, while the Indian Sulaymanis continue to use the name ‘Sulaymani Bohra’.

Sultan Mohamed Shah

Aga Khan III (d. 1957) , the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis.

Sultan Muhammad Shah

Aga Khan III (d. 1957) , the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis.

Sultanate

(pl. saltanat) An Arabic word derived from the root sa-li-ta; it is a political office created by the Seljuk dynasty (1038-1194 CE), somewhat parallel to a kingdom in Western contexts; since then the Islamic world has witnessed the rise of numerous sultanates in Africa, Turkey, and India. Currently, there are only two sultanates, namely, Brunei and Oman.

Sumras

An Ismaili dynasty in Sind based in the city of Thatta that ruled from 1051 for about three centuries.

sunna

Custom or practice; particularly that associated with the exemplary life of the Prophet Muhammad, comprising his deeds and utterances as recorded in the hadith.

Sunnis

Adherents of the majority branch of Islam, Sunnism; from the term sunni which means a follower of the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad.

Sura

A chapter of the Qur’an, (pl. suwar). Etymologically it is difficult to trace the term sura, but is probably derived from the Arabic root sa-wa-ra, meaning to enclose or to wall in. The word occurs in Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac. The term is used for the 114 distinct literary units of the Qur’an. Each sura is marked by a specific title, and it is divided into a number of ayat (verses) which are varying in length. The suras fall under two categories, Meccan or Medinan, depending on which of the two cities the verses in the suras were revealed in. Apart from the ninth sura called al-Tawba ‘the Repentance’, all suras start with a basmalla, the phrase: bismi’Llah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Kind).